Parentification - A form of role reversal, in which a child of a personality-disordered parent is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of the other children.
Some parents who suffer from personality disorders actively or passively transfer the responsibility for meeting their own emotional and physical needs or the emotional and physical needs of other family members to one of their children.
Parentified children may have an expectation placed on them to sacrifice play, friendships with peers, sleep or schooling.
The eldest child or the most emotionally or physically mature child among a group of siblings is often the one who is most prone to being parentified. In some cases, a child of the opposite sex is chosen to meet the emotional and physical needs of the parent and assume the role of a "surrogate spouse".
Children are often anxious to please their parents and a parentified child will often take their new responsibilities very seriously. They may even feel honored initially to have a greater responsibility entrusted to them. In some cases, the child is the one who takes the initiative to take on more responsibility and the parent passively allows it to happen. However, the child will generally suffer from having his or her own emotional needs neglected. Parentified children may struggle with lingering resentment, explosive anger and difficulty in forming trusting relationships with peers, often following them into adulthood. Forming close, trusting romantic and spousal relationships may be difficult for adults who were parentified as children.
There are two common types of parentification - physical and emotional.
Physical Parentification (Also Called Instrumental Parentification):
Physical Parentification is when a child is given the responsibility of looking after the physical needs of the parent and/or the other siblings. This can include duties such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, paying bills, managing the household budget, getting kids ready for school, supervising homework, dispensing medications etc.
Physical parentification is different from assigning household chores to children, which is a normal and healthy practice. Assigning chores becomes dysfunctional when it reaches a level where the real parent abdicates their own responsibility for the care of the children, where the task assigned is beyond the developmental maturity of the child or where the assigned duties leave little or no time for the child to engage in normal childhood activities, play, peer friendships, schooling or sleep.
Emotional Parentification is when a child is given the responsibility of looking after the emotional and psychological needs of the parent and/or the other siblings.
This can include the case where the parent begins to confide in the child, discussing their problems and their issues, and using the child as a surrogate for a spouse or a therapist. This kind of emotional parentification is sometimes referred to as "emotional incest"
Other siblings, taking their cues from the parent, may also attempt to unburden themselves on the child.
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